Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 
The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.


The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.
 

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

Update on attempts to bring Hubble back to life

Engineers have released an update on their attempts to bring Hubble out of safe mode that are indicating that they are honing in on the cause of the problem.

After performing tests on several of the computer’s memory modules, the results indicate that a different piece of computer hardware may have caused the problem, with the memory errors being only a symptom. The operations team is investigating whether the Standard Interface (STINT) hardware, which bridges communications between the computer’s Central Processing Module (CPM) and other components, or the CPM itself is responsible for the issue. The team is currently designing tests that will be run in the next few days to attempt to further isolate the problem and identify a potential solution.

This step is important for determining what hardware is still working properly for future reference. If the problem with the payload computer can’t be fixed, the operations team will be prepared to switch to the STINT and CPM hardware onboard the backup payload computer. The team has conducted ground tests and operations procedure reviews to verify all the commanding required to perform that switch on the spacecraft.

It appears that no matter what solution they arrive at, they will still require several days to test the solution to make sure it works. This update however is very hopeful, as it does appear they are locating the cause and have avenues for fixing it.

Hubble went into safe mode on June 13, which means it has now been out of operation for more than ten days.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

 
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

A sample of typical but strange Martian northern lowland plain geology

Typical lowland features on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on April 18, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a nice sample of the typical glacial-filled craters found often in the mid-latitudes between 30 to 60 degree latitudes, surrounded by a lot of erosion features representative of these lowland northern plains.

The biggest crater is very symptomatic of what scientists have dubbed concentric crater fill, a feature that they believe reveals that there is buried ice water glaciers here, protected by a thin layer of debris. The apron of brighter material surrounding the crater could be a splash feature created during impact and now more obvious because it has been revealed as sublimation and erosion lowered the terrain nearby.

The location is north of the Cydonia region in Acidalia Planitia, several thousand miles to the northeast of the region where Viking 1 landed in 1976 and Mars Pathfinder landed in 1997, as shown in the overview map below.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Eric Clapton, for daring to express his own opinions

1966 in communist China
Mao’s cultural revolution in 1966,
what today’s leftists want for America and the world.

They’re coming for you next: Long time rock-n-roll star Eric Clapton has revealed that he has become ostracized from his liberal, leftist, music culture because he dared to publicly express opposition to last year’s lockdowns as well as publicly expressed reservations about the COVID-19 vaccines.

Legendary guitarist Eric Clapton said his musician friends stopped communicating with him after he recently spoke out about his “disastrous” COVID-19 side effects. “I’ve tried to reach out to fellow musicians,” Clapton said during a video Q&A mostly about his COVID-19 vaccine experience and his reaction to the powers-that-be afterward. “I just don’t hear from them anymore. My phone doesn’t ring very often. I don’t get that many texts and emails any more. It’s quite noticeable.”

Clapton’s aforementioned statements come at the very end of the below video, just before the 24-minute mark — but the whole interview is pretty eye-opening:

According to Vulture.com, Clapton also said, “I was ostracized. And I could feel that everywhere.”

I agree, the whole interview is worth listening to, and so I have embedded it at the bottom of this essay.
» Read more

Leaving Earth cover

With only 10 9 8 copies left of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth, I have raised the price to $100 for buying an autographed copy of this rare collector's item. That price is only going to apply until I have five books left. After that the price will go up again, substantially.

 

To get your copy while the getting is good, please send a $105 check (which includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to
 

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

 

Leaving Earth is also available as an inexpensive ebook!

 

Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, can be purchased as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 

If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big oppressive tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

 

Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke

Ariane 6 inaugural launch date appears to be delayed again

It appears that officials at the European Space Agency (ESA) have begun preparing the public for a further delay in the first launch of its new Ariane 6 rocket, from the second quarter of 2022, as announced in October 2020, to the third quarter of 2022, at the earliest.

Josef Aschbacher, director general of the European Space Agency, at the Paris Air Forum [described the creation of] “a small group” … to make an independent assessment of the schedule for the final development phase of the Ariane 6 rocket. The goal of this task force will be to ensure that Europe does everything it needs to do launch on time.

…In referring to an “on time” launch, Aschbacher said he meant next year, before the European Space Agency’s Ministerial Council meeting that is typically held in October or November. This is a high-level meeting where representatives from each member nation of the space agency gather to set policy. The European Space Agency’s budget is provided, in varying amounts, by member nations. “This is a must,” Aschbacher said of launching before the 2022 meeting, “because we need good news, and good success, for our politicians to see that Europe performs, that Europe delivers, and therefore it is worth investing in space in the ministerial conference.”

It appears from these statements that the development of Ariane 6 is now faced with delays that might make a launch by the third quarter in ’22 difficult, and this new independent committee is being put together to try to forestall that possibility. What makes this even more significant for Ariane 6 is that it continues to have trouble winning contracts from the nations within ESA, as it remains far more expensive that SpaceX’s Falcon 9. If that first launch is delayed past that important fall ’22 high-level meeting, those politicians at that meeting might decide to consider serious new alternatives to it, or even more drastically decide to replace it entirely.

Hubble remains out of commission, with no repair date in sight

According to a statement to Space.com provided by the engineers trying to fix the Hubble Space Telescope, “there is no definitive timeline for bringing the computer back online.”

The Hubble operations team is working to solve the payload computer issue onboard the Hubble Space Telescope. The team is working to collect all the data available to them to isolate the problem and determine the best path forward for bringing the computer back to operations. At this time, there is no definitive timeline for bringing the computer back online. However, the team has multiple options available to them and are working to find the best solution to return the telescope to science operations as soon as possible.

…Assuming that this problem is corrected via one of the many options available to the operations team, Hubble is expected to continue yielding amazing discoveries into the late 2020s or beyond,” the operations team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland told Space.com in an email. However, “there is no definitive timeline yet as to when this will be completed, tested and brought back to operational status,

I gather from this that they do have options to might fix the problem, but they have also found the problem to be more complex than expected.

While I honestly am confident these engineers can bring the telescope back to life, we must all be prepared for the strong possibility that this might be the moment when such a repair is impossible. If so, our vision of the heavens will once again be blinded by the poor vision available to us from inside the Earth’s atmosphere. And that vision will not be cleared in the foreseeable future by an American or western optical space telescope, as none are being designed, no less built.

The Chinese however are building one, for their purposes, which will be better than Hubble and is set to launch within the next few years to fly in formation with their new space station, close by so that astronauts can do repairs if necessary.

Readers!
 

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Cortaro, AZ 85652

Removing a bee swarm

An evening pause: We’ve had two bee swarms at my house in Tucson in the past decade. With the first we made the terrible mistake of taking the advice of an exterminator who destroyed it. The second time we knew better and simply waited 24 hours for them to move on.

The bee remover here removes them, but wisely without harming them. And he does it in a manner that will both surprise you and make you cringe.

Hat tip Mike Nelson.

Space Perspectives completes first unmanned test flight of its manned balloon, Neptune

Neptune One at launch
Neptune One at launch. Click for full image.

Capitalism in space: Space Perspectives announced today that it has successfully completed the first unmanned test flight of its manned balloon, Neptune One, in preparation for commercial tourist flights.

From the press release:

The vehicle flew to its target altitude and traversed the Florida peninsula before splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico and being recovered. The historic 6 hour and 39 minute flight marks the first major step towards flying customers to space for an unrivaled experience and perspective of our world from space.

Neptune One launched at 5:23 am EDT from the Space Coast Air and Spaceport and reached its planned altitude of 108,409 feet before executing a splashdown at the predetermined location 50 miles off the west coast of Florida.

Today’s announcement made no mention of when those commercial flights would begin, though previously the company had said it was aiming for commercial flights in ’24, and they appear to be meeting the schedule then announced.

Long March 2F booster that launched astronauts lands on public road in China

Long March 2F strap on booster after crashing onto public road
Click for full image.

One of the four strap-on boosters used to launch three astronauts to China’s new space station on June 16th ended up landing on a public road in China.

The photo to the right, uploaded at this twitter feed, shows the booster. The parachute cords at its top explain why it is so relatively undamaged. The Chinese are apparently experimenting with parachutes to slow and maybe even control its descent. They might even be planning to catch the stage before it hits the ground, using a plane or helicopter, as both ULA and Rocket Lab hope to do with their Vulcan and Electron rockets.

Of course, we do not know this, as the Chinese tell us nothing.

Note that the hypergolic fuels, such as the hydrazine used in this booster, are extremely toxic. The person who took this picture is in very great danger, even if he or she does not know it.

Potential routes of hydrazine exposure include dermal, ocular, inhalation and ingestion.

Hydrazine exposure can cause skin irritation/contact dermatitis and burning, irritation to the eyes/nose/throat, nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath, pulmonary edema, headache, dizziness, central nervous system depression, lethargy, temporary blindness, seizures and coma. Exposure can also cause organ damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Hydrazine is documented as a strong skin sensitizer with potential for cross-sensitization to hydrazine derivatives following initial exposure.

Not that the Chinese government really cares. They have been dumping these boosters on their own people for decades, and only recently have apparently begun to look into ways of controlling their descent.

Today’s blacklisted American: International food festival bans Israeli vendor for being Jewish

Coming to your town in America soon!
Ethnic round-ups: Coming to your town in America soon!

Persecution is now cool! An international food festival in Philadelphia decided to ban an Israeli food truck, Moshava Philadephia, in response of the many threats of physical violence it received if the Jewish vendor was allowed to attend.

The backlash to this bigoted decision was so immediate that the organizations putting together the food festival, called “Eat up the Borders” and “Sunflower Philly”, decided to cancel the entire event rather than back down and allow a Jew to sell food there.

The statement by Eat Up the Borders announcing the decision to ban the Jewish vendor is particularly vile in its intellectual dishonesty:
» Read more

GAO: Problems with Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine threaten ULA’s Vulcan rocket

Capitalism in space: According to a new report [pdf] issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on June 8th, on-going technical issues with Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine threaten ULA’s planned inaugural launch of its new Vulcan rocket later this year.

From page 106 of the report:

A U.S. produced rocket engine [BE-4] under development [by Blue Origin] for ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicle is experiencing technical challenges related to the igniter and booster capabilities required and may not be qualified in time to support first launches beginning in 2021. A joint program office and ULA team is tracking these challenges, and NSSL officials told us Vulcan remains on track to support first launches and certification in 2021. However, if ULA cannot complete engine qualification before the 2021 flight certification, the program might continue to rely on ULA’s Atlas V—which uses engines manufactured in the Russian Federation—to support ULA’s 2022 launches, despite a nearly $2.9 billion investment in new launch system development. [emphasis mine]

ULA has a limited number of Russian engines in its inventory. At some point it must move on to American-built engines, and if Blue Origin’s BE-4 cannot be fixed then the company will be forced to look for other options.

Both ULA and Blue Origin maintain that the first Vulcan launch will occur in the fourth quarter of this year, launching Astrobotic’s lunar lander Peregrine to the Moon, but no date has been announced. If this GAO report is describing problems that still remain as of June 2021 and have not been fixed, then expect a further delay to be announced, probably by September.

These technical issues with the BE-4 engine also impact Blue Origin’s plans to begin launching its orbital rocket, New Glenn, next year. That rocket is already two years behind schedule, delays caused partly by these engine issues and partly due to the requirements imposed by the military under the above-mentioned $2.9 billion program to develop new launch systems. Without that new engine, Blue Origin’s much-touted effort to compete with SpaceX for commercial launches will go up in smoke.

Astronauts complete installation of 1st set of new solar panels on ISS

Astronauts yesterday successfully completed the installation of the first set of new solar panels on ISS, completing the work they could not do on a first spacewalk because of issues with one of the astronaut’s spacesuits.

The new panels are deployed on top of the old panels. Though smaller, they are more efficient, so they actually produce more energy total.

The IROSAs [acronym for the new panels] will be installed on top of six of the station’s existing solar arrays, which will allow the IROSAs to utilize the same sun-tracking motors and be connected into the same electrical system as the current arrays.

With the IROSAs being around 30% efficient, compared to the 14% efficiency of the original arrays, the IROSAs will generate roughly the same amount of power as the originals despite being only half their size. Each IROSA will produce 20kW of additional power, for a total of 120kW across all six arrays.

However, because the IROSAs are smaller, they will not completely cover the half of the six [old panels] they’ll be installed over. Instead, portions of the original arrays will still be power positive. The unshadowed portions of the original arrays will continue to produce 95kW as a result, making for a combined total of 215kW of power available to the ISS — an increase of nearly a third compared with the outpost’s current levels.

The set installed yesterday was the first of six new panels to be installed, replacing all of the old panels.

First attempts to fix Hubble fail

An attempt to switch the Hubble Space Telescope to a different backup computer module in order to bypass a broken unit failed last week, leaving the telescope in safe mode.

A payload computer on Hubble stopped working June 13, the agency said in a June 16 statement. Engineers speculated that the computer, used to manage operations of Hubble’s science instruments, malfunctioned because of a degrading memory module, putting the instruments into a safe mode.

The agency said at the time that it would switch of a backup memory module that day and, after about a day of testing, restart the instruments and resume science observations.

However, in a June 18 statement, NASA said those efforts to switch to a backup memory module failed because “the command to initiate the backup module failed to complete.” An attempt to restore the computer with both the original memory module and the backup unit also failed.

While the engineers at the Space Telescope Science Institute, that operates Hubble, have expressed confidence they can overcome these issues, the failures this week are truly troublesome. We may truly be facing the end of the telescope,

A confused river of ice on Mars

A river of ice on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on March 4, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what MRO’s science team labeled a “Landform in Source Region of Harmakhis Vallis.”

They are being very correct and careful with that label. The landform here is quite clearly reminiscent of a glacier, but because they don’t yet have confirmation of its watery nature, as good scientists they can’t call it that.

I however am a mere journalist, so I am free to speculate more wildly. Sure looks like glaciers to me, the ice flowing downhill from the left to the right and flowing around that central mound.

The overview map below gives a wider context, but also makes the behavior of the glaciers here far more puzzling.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: George Mason University to blackball whites and men in hiring

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: repealed by George Mason University.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964:
Doesn’t exist at George Mason University.

The new bigotry on American campuses: In an email sent out to his entire faculty in mid-May, George Mason University president Gregory Washington demanded that the university’s hiring practices specifically discriminate in favor of minorities and women over whites and men.

Washington further argued that the faculty at GMU do not proportionally represent the ethnicities of the student body or the surrounding region. A vision of diversity and inclusion in hiring “is a recognition of the reality that our society’s future lies in multicultural inclusion,” he said in his email.

This begins by redefining “best” to include “lived experiences” as a top hiring criteria alongside professional aptitude, he stated. In short, “We either believe that diversity and inclusion can improve our performance, or we don’t,” Washington stated.

Consequently, Washington recommended hiring based jointly on teaching ability, research achievements, and openness to diversity. The result, he argued, will support minorities who don’t have equal access to opportunities for success.

To really get a flavor of Washington’s discriminatory recommendations you need to read his whole email. » Read more

Japanese scientists complete inventory of Ryugu asteroid samples

In a press conference yesterday the Japanese space agency JAXA announced that scientists have completed their inventory of the samples brought back from the asteroid Ryugu by the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft, and are now ready to begin distributing those samples to scientists around the world for more detailed research.

JAXA has cataloged the soil samples brought back by Hayabusa 2 last December, by size, color and shape. From now, 269 researchers from 14 countries, including Japan and the United States, will conduct an in-depth analysis of the soil’s structures and components over the course of about a year.

As expected, the inventory found the samples had a large amount of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon atoms. Even before Hayabusa-2’s arrival, Ryugu had been catalogued as a “hydrated” asteroid, which means it was thought to contain a lot of hydrogen and oxygen, the basic elements of water. The inventory has now confirmed this.

Japan passes law protecting property rights in space

Japan’s legislature on June 15th approved a new law designed to protect the ownership of the resources private entities extract for profit in space.

Japan’s legislation is similar to provisions in the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2015. That law grants U.S. companies rights to resources that they extract, but not property rights to celestial bodies, which would run afoul of the Outer Space Treaty. Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates have since passed similar legislation.

All four countries are signatories of the Artemis Accords, which endorses the ability to extract and use space resources. “The Signatories affirm that the extraction of space resources does not inherently constitute national appropriation under Article II of the Outer Space Treaty, and that contracts and other legal instruments relating to space resources should be consistent with that Treaty,” the accords state.

Both Russia and China oppose such legislation, as well as the Artemis Accords, which have now been signed by eleven countries.

What this growing alignment of opposing sides means for future space operations by private companies is unclear, though it suggests these two countries will not honor those private property rights, which in turn suggests this legal disagreement is eventually going to lead to physical conflict in space.

China’s Long March 2C rocket launches three military satellites

China today used its Long March 2C rocket to launch three military reconnaissance satellites into orbit.

The rocket’s first stage uses highly toxic hypergolic fuels, and is expendable. Since it is launched from the interior of China, that stage always crashes on land, sometimes near residential areas. No word on where it crashed today.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

19 SpaceX
18 China
8 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. still leads China 27 to 18 in the national rankings.

Today’s blacklisted American: NY accounting program for high school students bans whites

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: repealed by the universities in New York.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964: unilaterally repealed by
the universities in New York.

Blacklists are back and New York’s got ’em! Until Campus Reform revealed its bigoted discriminatory policy, a New York accounting program for high school students specifically excluded whites from applying.

The first link above includes a screen capture of the program’s original application requirements, which included five categories, (1) Hispanic or Latino, (2) Black or African American, (3) Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, (3) Asian, (4) Native American or Alaska Native, (5) Two or More Races.

Notice what’s missing? If you are simply white and thus do not fall into these categories, you must go to the back of the bus. For example, my kids (had I any) would be Jewish, white, and of European descent, and thus under these definitions would be forbidden to even apply to the program. And the only reason they would be rejected would be because of their race and ethnicity, a criteria that is a blatant violation of so many anti-discrimination laws passed since the 1960s it boggles the mind.
» Read more

New data confirms lack of dark matter in one galaxy

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have strengthened their evidence that one particular nearby galaxy is completely devoid of dark matter, a situation that challenges the existing theories about dark matter which suggest it comprises the bulk of all matter in the universe.

The astronomers had made their first claim that this galaxy, NGC 1052-DF2, lacked dark matter back in 2018, a claim that was strongly disputed by others.

The claim however would only hold up if the galaxy’s distance from Earth was as far away as they then estimated, 65 million light years (not the 42 million light years estimated by others). If it were closer, as other scientists insisted, then NCC 1052-DF2 likely did have dark matter, and the theorists could sleep at night knowing that their theory about dark matter was right.

To test their claim, the astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to get a better, more tightly constrained estimate of the distance, and discovered the galaxy was even farther away then previously believed.

Team member Zili Shen, from Yale University, says that the new Hubble observations help them confirm that DF2 is not only farther from Earth than some astronomers suggest, but also slightly more distant than the team’s original estimates.

The new distance estimate is that DF2 is 72 million light-years as opposed to 42 million light-years, as reported by other independent teams. This places the galaxy farther than the original Hubble 2018 estimate of 65 light-years distance.

So, does this discovery invalidate the theories about dark matter? Yes and no. The theories now have to account for the existence of galaxies with no dark matter. Previously it was assumed that dark matter was to be found as blobs at the locations of all galaxies. Apparently it is not.

However, the lack of dark matter at this one galaxy does not prove that dark matter is not real. As noted by the lead astronomer in this research,

“In our 2018 paper, we suggested that if you have a galaxy without dark matter, and other similar galaxies seem to have it, that means that dark matter is actually real and it exists,” van Dokkum said. “It’s not a mirage.

Ah, the uncertainty of science. Isn’t it wonderful?

China and Russia outline long term plans for building joint lunar base

China/Russian Lunar base roadmap

The governments of China and Russia yesterday announced their long term roadmap for building a joint manned lunar base on the Moon, what they have labeled the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS).

The graphic to the right, rearranged by me from the PowerPoint slides released by the two governments, shows the overall plan.

The first phase, starting now and running through ’25, will involve six already planned unmanned missions by both countries, three each. Of the three Chinese unmanned missions, Chang’e-4, Chang’e-6, and Chang’e-7, the first is already operating on the Moon, as it includes the Yutu-2 rover. Based on China’s recent track record, it would be reasonable to expect the other two Chang’e missions to fly as planned.

Of the three Russian missions, Luna 25 is scheduled to launch later this year, making it the first all-Russian-built planetary mission in years and the first back to the Moon since the 1970s. The other two Russian probes are supposedly under development, but based on Russia’s recent track record in the past two decades for promised space projects, we have no guarantee they will fly as scheduled, or even fly at all.

The second phase, running from ’26 to ’35, will begin construction, though the details are vague.

The third phase, when China & Russia say they will begin full operations in ’36, is even more vague, merely stating the objective of human “lunar research and exploration”.

The pace matches well with the typically slow pace of these kind of government programs. It not only matches with the pace that China has shown in its entire manned program, with manned missions sometimes separated by years, it also matches the sluggish long term roadmap that NASA has put forth for its own Artemis program on the Moon. It also fits with Russia’s recent pattern, which is to repeatedly announce big projects and goals, with little actual execution to follow.

At first glance the plan suggests that we are in a new space race between the United States and its national partners in the capitalist west and the authoritarian governments of China and Russia. That may be so, but I think the real race will be between the government programs in China, Russia, and the U.S. and the efforts by private commercial companies aiming to make profits in space. And if you ask me to bet on who will get more accomplished faster for less money, I will hands down put my money on those private companies. The more profit they make, the faster they will push to move forward, and will quickly leave these sedate government programs in the dust.

Russia announces it is shifting its manned operations on ISS to yearlong missions

According to Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, Russia is changing the standard length of a crew stay at ISS from six months to a full year, beginning with the flight in which the crew will help film a commercial movie on ISS in October.

Then-Head of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center Pavel Vlasov earlier said that two members of the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft, Pyotr Dubrov and Mark Vande Hei, would stay in orbit longer than six months to help shoot a film Vyzov (Challenge). He also said that crew commander Oleg Novitsky would return to Earth in October aboard the Soyuz MS-18’s descend capsule together with the participants of the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft’s flight (actress Yulia Peresild and film director Klim Shipenko who would be engaged in the film). Two crewmembers, cosmonaut Dubrov and NASA astronaut Vande Hei, would remain in orbit and return to Earth aboard the Soyuz MS-19 spaceship, he said.

Gaining experience at missions a year or longer, something only the Russians have accomplished, makes sense if one plans to send astronauts to Mars. I suspect however there is a second more practical reason for this change: It will free up seats on Soyuz to sell for commercial tourist flights. Russia clearly wants to compete successfully with the new American commercial manned flights that SpaceX and Axiom will be flying. This change gives them that opportunity.

Rogozin himself likely has personal financial motives. He is a co-producer on that movie, and likely will also pocket personally some of the profits from future tourist flights.

SpaceX confirms it is shifting to Starship orbital test flights

Capitalism in space: By shifting both the 15th and 16th Starship prototypes to its garden at Boca Chica of retired spacecraft, SpaceX has essentially confirmed that it has shifted operations there from short test hops to Starship orbital test flights.

Built as the first of several planned backups to Starship SN15, which debuted a number of significant upgrades in April and May, it appears that Starship serial number 16 (SN16) has been retired to a display stand after its only sibling became the first full-size prototype to successfully survive a launch and landing on May 5th. SN16 actually reached its full height before SN15 lifted off and was more or less complete by May 10th. Since then, the prototype has remaining more or less untouched, seemingly waiting for SpaceX to decide its fate in lieu of Starship SN15’s major success.

Ultimately, with SN16 now sitting side by side with SN15 at what will likely become a sort of open-air SpaceX museum, it appears that the company has made up its mind.

In other words, prototype #16, though built and ready to fly, will likely never do so. Instead, the company is focusing its operations on preparing for the first orbital test flights using Starship prototype #20 stacked on top of a Superheavy, with the first flight planned to circle three-quarters of the globe to land in the Pacific northeast of Hawaii.

Since neither #20 nor its Superheavy are fully assembled, that flight will likely not occur in July, as SpaceX had initially suggested as its targeted launch date. However, with all work now focused on that orbital test flight, it is almost certain they will attempt it before the year is out.

The big question is whether Starship’s first orbital flight will beat out SLS’s first orbital flight, presently scheduled for November but expected to be delayed.

Spacesuit issues prevent spacewalk from completing new ISS solar panels installation

Astronauts on ISS yesterday were unable to complete the installation of a new solar panel on ISS because the suit of one astronaut began experiencing technical problems.

First, a sensor in the suit’s sublimator — which provides pressure — registered a spike. Shortly thereafter, the Display and Control Module (DCM) in his suit malfunctioned, necessitating an immediate return to the Quest Airlock to connect back to Station umbilicals to attempt a restart of the unit.

The “warm restart” of the DCM meant that Shane [Kimbrough]’s suit momentarily lost its cooling and CO2 scrubbing capabilities; however, this is an acceptable condition, per EVA procedures, when attempting to “warm restart” a DCM. A failure to restart the unit would have meant a premature end to the EVA.

The restart was successful, and ground teams sent Shane back out to Thomas while managers and engineers continued to discuss the sublimator issue — which itself could have also stop the EVA early. Fortunately, through a series of suit configuration tests, ground teams were able to determine that the sublimator was functioning properly and that a faulty sensor likely triggered an erroneous pressure increase reading.

The time lost in fixing these issues however prevented the astronauts from finishing their work. The new solar panel was attached, but not unrolled into its full deployed configuration. The astronauts also were unable to plug the new panel into the station’s electrical system.

Engineers are now assessing the situation in order to plan a follow-up spacewalk.

Astronomers propose explanation the dimming of Betelgeuse in 2020

The uncertainty of science: New data has allowed astronomers to propose a more detailed explanation for the dimming of Betelgeuse in 2020 by almost two-thirds.

[T]he dimming was likely to be caused by [one of two] mechanisms, such as a blob of unusually cold matter appearing on the surface of the star in what’s known as a convective cell, or a cloud of dust crossing the line of sight to it.

Now, astrophysicist Miguel Montargès at the Paris Observatory and his collaborators have found that the reason for the ‘great dimming’ was probably a combination of both of those factors

The data suggest that the star spewed out material from a convection cell, which then quickly condensed into dust which acted to block the star’s light. The growing cell itself also was darker, which also contributed to the dimming.

The results, while robust, are still uncertain. While a number of mainstream news sources are claiming the mystery of Betelgeuse’s dimming has been “solved”, that is not how it works. The data now points to an answer, but the data is far from complete, and future observations could very easily change that answer.

Manned Shenzhou capsule docks with Tianhe

China’s manned Shenzhou capsule early this morning successfully docked with the Tianhe module of that nation’s new space station.

The three astronauts on board will spend the next three months doing work in connection with the assembly of that station. Though this was the first Chinese manned mission in five years, the pace is expected to pick up in the next year.

Eight more launches will be required to finish construction of the space station, Chinese officials have said. Two will loft “lab modules” that will attach to Tianhe, forming the final T-shaped station. The assembly phase, which is expected to wrap up by the end of 2022, will also include three more cargo launches and three additional crewed missions.

SpaceX successfully launches GPS satellite for Space Force

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a new GPS satellite for the Space Force.

As I post this the second stage has not yet deployed the satellite, though it is in orbit. UPDATE: As expected the satellite has been successfully deployed into its proper orbit.

This was the first Space Force launch using a reused Falcon 9 first stage. The stage, making its second flight, successfully landed on the drone ship, broadcasting the absolutely best video ever of such a landing, with the cameras on both the stage and the drone ship working without distortion throughout the landing to touchdown. The live stream is embedded below the fold, with that landing at 8:34 minutes after launch.

The two fairing halves are new but their pick up method for reuse has been streamlined:

For this mission, a new vessel has joined SpaceX’s oceangoing recovery fleet. HOS Briarwood will attempt to recover Falcon 9’s payload fairing halves after they splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. Similar in size to Shelia Bordelon, the previous temporary fairing recovery vessel, HOS Briarwood can be booked as a “flotel” and features an enormous crane, along with seemingly just enough deck space to support two recovered fairing halves.

Apparently, allowing the halves to land directly on the ocean surface and act as floating boat hulls until the ship can pick them up on a single ship, using a crane, is now the recovery method. There is also the hint that SpaceX might also be planning to sell tickets on this ship for people who wish a vacation watching that fairing recovery operation.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

19 SpaceX
17 China
8 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. now leads China 27 to 17 in the national rankings. Note: The average number of American launches per year during the 21st century (from 2000 to 2020) was 22. The U.S. has now topped that average by five launches, and the year is not even half over.
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